Driving into work on I-75 Wednesday morning the reality of Hurricane Irma set in for Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain.
During his weekly radio show “Gator Talk” McElwain said his drive in to work on I75 south was just him and an 18-wheeler. On the other side of the interstate it was bumper-to-bumper traffic with people trying to get out of the state before Irma barrels into Florida.
“It probably hit me at that point that there’s a lot bigger things than playing a football game,” said McElwain.
This is the third game in the last four years that the Gators have lost a game due to weather. Athletic Director Scott Stricklin and the entire University Athletic Association exhausted all of their options before finally succumbing to the reality that the game should not be played.
“We badly wanted to play this football game. Our team badly wanted to play this football game,” Stricklin said during Gator Talk. “I know our fans wanted to see the Orange & Blue run out on Steve Spurrier-Florida Field and play this football game. So we were (working) all week to make decisions to play this game.”
The game, originally slated for a 7:30 kick, was initially moved up to noon. With an ever-changing “cone of uncertainty” for Irma Stricklin even reached out to a Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs about potentially playing the game in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn is on the road this week in Clemson.
“Jay is a good friend and he was more than willing to figure something out there for us,” said Stricklin. “Again that means we’re going to put our team on the road in the conditions that we’re currently under and then when we get there we’ve got to get them back. And the time to get them back is about the time that storm is starting to come up through the state.”
There was even an idea that the team would play the game as scheduled at noon in an empty Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“Our staff said, ‘How can we ask fans to come to a football game?”
Ultimately, after kicking around the idea of playing a game in an empty Ben Hill Griffin Stadium the realization came that, maybe, if you need to go to such extreme lengths to play a football game then it shouldn’t be played.
The game will not be made up. Northern Colorado signed a contract that guaranteed the program $625,000. The UAA has insurance that will help cover that cost, as well as the money lost to tickets that will be refunded for the game.
Do the Gators, losers of their first game, need a tune up before getting into SEC play next week against Tennessee? You bet they do. Is it fair that they won’t have that chance now? No, it isn’t. life isn’t fair and try telling the people throughout the state that are being mandatorily evacuated from their homes what fair is.
Stricklin was faced with a hard decision but he made the right choice. This isn’t about money. It’s not about getting your team tuned up and ready to play the rest of the season. Hurricane Irma has already claimed homes, cars, boats, and even lives. Football is not bigger than real life.
“It was about what’s the right thing for the University of Florida, for Northern Colorado, for our fans, for the community and for the state for Florida,” said Stricklin.